Winner of the 2022 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
Finalist for the 2022 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award
Longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize
Longlisted for the 2022 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
An uncanny literary thriller addressing the painful legacy of lynching in the US, by the author of Telephone
Percival Everett’s The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. When a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist White townsfolk. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till.
The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the MBI detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried. In this bold, provocative book, Everett takes direct aim at racism and police violence, and does so in a fast-paced style that ensures the reader can’t look away. The Trees is an enormously powerful novel of lasting importance from an author with his finger on America’s pulse.
Everett's sharp latest (after Telephone) spins a puckish revenge fantasy into dark social satire underpinned by a whodunit. In the archetypal Southern town of Money, Miss., someone is knocking off white men, most with a history of racist views. The first victim is Junior Junior Milam, his skull bashed in and his pants pulled down. Near Junior Junior's corpse is another, the body of an unidentified Black man. The mystery intensifies with the appearance of more racist white victims, each with a Black corpse laid beside them. Deepening and complicating the story: the Black corpses all disappear, and are replaced by photographs of Emmett Till. The novel unfolds over a hundred super-short chapters, allowing Everett to maintain a breakneck pace as the crime spree spreads north, the FBI becomes involved, and the president weighs in with a painfully tone-deaf address. Everett delves into a miasma of racist stereotypes held toward and among multiple groups, sometimes with the same sophomoric humor applied to characters' loopy names. (A pair of Asian detectives are named Chin and Ho, a reference to a character from Hawaii Five-O; Kyle-Lindsay Beet is the High Grand Serpent of the Revived Brotherhood of White Protectors.) Still, this timely absurdist novel produces plenty of chills.
In the essence of our day, tragic and satirical, yet not.
Everett has wound a masterpiece of symbolism and elegance so tightly it will leave one breathless, as it should.